The value of omega-3s. Also known as essential fatty acids, omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid and are one of three kinds of naturally occurring fats in the human diet. (The others are saturated and monounsaturated fats.)
Your body cannot manufacture omega-3s; they are found mainly in seafood but also in nuts, some oils and eggs, and to a small extent, red meat. Omega-3s contain large amounts of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are believed to have numerous health benefits, such as maintaining proper functioning of the nervous system.
Omega-3s are a building block of cell membranes, and it's thought that increasing omega-3 levels makes it easier for serotonin (a chemical that relays impulses between nerve cells) to pass through cell walls. Consuming more omega-3s can also increase serotonin in the body; low levels of serotonin are linked with depression. In countries with high consumption of fish and omega-3s, there tend to be low depression rates. The opposite is true, as well, as is the case in the United States.
Some experts have blamed American eating patterns for the rise in depression.
- As we have tried to adopt a heart-healthy diet, we have cut back on red meat and eggs -- two good nonseafood sources of omega-3s.
- We use a lot of oils like corn, soybean and sunflower, which are low in omega-3s.
- And we're now eating more omega-6 fatty acids than ever before in fast food and processed foods.
However, the increase in the depression rate is almost certainly the result of many factors, with these dietary issues as one possible contributor.